There I am, yearning for some great new music, and get Aphex Twin instead, so I decide to go musically conservative, hoping that will improve the odds of hitting a winner. I end up with something that the old and not very bold WNEW-FM would have been proud to play.
And that's the problem.
The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream
Spacious, but grounded, or something like that, said the blurb on the cover. Which is a way of saying it’s well produced, I guess.
Leader Adam Granduciel is trying to sounds like mid-60s Dylan, vocally, but puts a thick slab of U2-ish spaciness on top and ends up with some pretty commercial sounding AOR.
But Christ, he sure takes his time.
With its long intro and attempted build-up of momentum, the good but not quite great opener, “Under the Pressure”, never quite takes off the way it's meant to, and after eight minutes, ultimately collapses under all that, well, you know. Unlike Bowie’s “Station to Station” - an even longer song with an even longer intro - which builds and builds to reach an actual climax, this song never gets to that level of intensity.
And this is the fatal flaw of the record. Ten songs adding up to over sixty minutes of music, each attempting an intensity that is rarely reached, indicate that this guy doesn’t know how to turn things up a notch, or when to wrap it up. And well, I’ve got a bus to catch.
It's like he's trying to achieve the trance-like state you might normally get from an extended dance track, but via the intensity of rock and roll. But he never gets there. He’s just too damned slow. Plus dance music typically has you know, a beat.
Maybe because he sounds so much older, he can only go so fast. Believe me, I can sympathize with that. But unlike Dylan, whose ever-whinier voice was always at least urgent, this guy sometimes sounds like that uncle you’re always avoiding at family get-togethers.
The second song, “Red Eyes”, does okay, but the third one - called "Suffering" - is kinda slow, so I guess it's aptly named. Not a bad song, Just a bad one to have follow two that didn't quite meet their potential.
“An Ocean in Between the Waves” moves a bit more and thus succeeds at its goal, but still takes seven freakin' minutes to get there.
Then there are a few more on the long and slow side that are obviously trying for some atmosphere, and succeed. If only that atmosphere wasn’t boredom! That’s not fair. They’re nice, but nothing more.
Then he goes all Bob Seger on my ass. Not the fun “Good Old Rock and Roll” Bob Seger. The later oh so older/"wiser" “Like a Rock"/“Against the Wind” Bob Seger. Granduciel also likes the wind. (Now there’s a joke I won’t even try to make.) He "fixes his eyes to the wind” (which I can’t do because I just get crap in them and end up rubbing them raw, so maybe I'm jealous) And god does that wind blow for a long time!
Even the short instrumental interlude takes three minutes!
“Burning” tries to borrow some grandiosity from “Dancing in the Dark”, but by this point things are just getting silly.
Paradoxically, the two tired songs that finish things up are actually pretty good. Maybe because by this point, I'm tired, too. The music (and the sentiments) - by sheer force of will - move beyond the cliche, and are quite moving, even though they’re not very specific. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.
This is “serious” rock music, which I find hard to take seriously. I know this sounds snobbish, but it’s really the opposite. I was always well behaved as a child, but this guy tempts me to throw spit balls from the back of the classroom.
And two or maybe three stirring moments spread out across an entire hour is more than I have the patience for anymore. Maybe some editing and the addition of a sense of humor would have made this the classic it’s clearly trying to be.
But his heart’s really in it, so I have to give him props for that. And it’s growing on me.
But only so much.
When to Play It: When You've Got Company, and They're Your Own Age (Old) But Haven't Admitted It Yet
When to NOT Play It: When you’re in a hurry.
“An Ocean In Between the Waves”